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Full text of "History And Human Relation"

HISTORY    AND    HUMAN    RELATIONS

would have done the other thing; as though in such a
case a man like Hitler would not have done something
different too at the next remove, and a host of otter
factors would have to be altered, the historical process
quickly complicating all the calculations that require to
be made. Indeed, history adds to the errors of a rigid
mind and only serves us when we use it to increase our
elasticity*

Over a quarter of a century ago Paul Valery produced
a serious criticism of historical study, and it is not clear
that his main charge has been answered—his criticism is
certainly applicable to that kind of historical education
which is directed merely to the " learning " of history,
the acquisition of the sort of knowledge which is
examined in memory tests. He put his finger on a
critical point, indeed on what perhaps is the very crux
of the matter, when he suggested that the effect of
historical study was to produce a certain lack of mental
elasticity. This, as he showed, was liable to be par-
ticularly harmful in a world where changes were coming
in such rapid cascades that the mind could hardly be
expected to move quickly enough to catch up with them,
I believe it is true to say that many people in England
in 1919 looked back upon the previous hundred years of
European history, and saw that during that period events
had been moving in a certain curve—moving in the
direction of" liberalism " and " nationality", for example.
Too easily and unconsciously they assumed that in the
conning years the course of history would continue that
curve: so that their knowledge of the past, especially of
die very recent past, robbed them of a certain flexibility.

178